Sigrid, Raw

[had this unfinished post in my drafts. i recall it was fun to write. felt inspired to post. be back next weekend.]

If I show I’m fragile
Would you go ahead and find somebody else?
And if I act too tough, know that I care ’bout you
I’m honest, no offense

No, I could never fake it
Like players always playing
Arrest me if I hurt you
But no apologies for being me

I am now a huge Sigrid fan, thanks to my daughter who introduced me to her last week. Sigrid is a Norwegian singer and songwriter who just hit the pop scene last year.

I like her because she is, as Maria says it, “authentic, honest and quirky.” Her music is not hyper-produced, the lyrics are plain, direct and reflective, and her look is natural. I hope she retains all of that.

I especially liked the song Raw, because it made me think of my wife. Patti, for those who know her, pulls no punches. What you see is what you get. She is truthful in the extreme, which is what I have always loved most about her. Whether it’s pointing out that I need to take a second shower before giving an evening lecture, calling me on the carpet for some inconsistency, or grabbing me by the tie and saying (when she saw I was filling my early morning prayer time with work), “I need you to be a man of prayer!” — she is, for me, grace in my face.

Patti is truthiness with lipstick and high heels. Once when I praised her for this quality, she said, “Well, when we got married I did say ‘I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad!'”

But the greatest part of her honesty is that it goes both ways — she welcomes it as much as she offers it. And that is something I find very rare in life, people who invite and welcome honest feedback. She will often say, “You don’t need to protect my feelings. I need to hear your perspective.”

But at the bottom of all such radical honesty — nakedness before the other — is unconditional trust. There can be no real honesty if you don’t have that in a relationship, don’t have the mutual understanding, guarded by love, sealed by a promise that the other person will never use your weaknesses against you; will never intend you harm; will never betray you; will never leave you, no matter what. Only when love is steeled by such a promise can you really get down and dirty, dig deep, be wholly free to be yourself and allow the other to be the same.

Of course, even with the best of intentions, without ill will, we do hurt each other. Reality. But even here the commitment to honesty rescues us, as I know I can admit my failure, my sin against her with unvarnished honesty and she will receive that and forgive me. Will give forgiveness which is not owed or demanded, but freely given to an unworthy recipient.

And let me say that kind of forgiveness brings you to your knees. Breaks your stony heart. Calls you out of your mediocrity toward the better. Honest love is a costly love, is a paschal love “caught up into divine love [that] leads the spouses to God with powerful effect.”*

So yes, it’s true. She, I just want to be raw.

*Gaudium et Spes #48

Ode to Twenty One Pilots


The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts. — Vatican II

My Twenty One Pilots obsession continues.

Someone recently sent me an interview with Twenty One Pilots lead singer, Tyler Joseph. He is so young. But what a remarkable depth. A poet’s mind, disarming authenticity. He truly shares the anxieties of this age, which styles him a powerful voice.

The interviewer asked him a fascinating question: what is the mission of Twenty One Pilots? From whence their lyrics, their musical style?

Tyler struggled to answer. He spoke of the numbers game that dominates the music industry — profits, number of fans. He admitted these tempt to distract him. But what really drives him, he said, is the idea that their music makes people think about life’s deepest and most universal questions. “If our music can lift up just one person, making their life better and more joyful, then that is the mission of Twenty One Pilots. I don’t just want to entertain people, I want them to think with me, to think about universally true things. I’m a seeker. I ask questions and hope they lead to joy.”

Their song Car Radio captures this brilliantly,

There are things we can do
But from the things that work there are only two
And from the two that we choose to do
Peace will win
And fear will lose
There’s faith and there’s sleep
We need to pick one please because
Faith is to be awake
And to be awake is for us to think
And for us to think is to be alive
And I will try with every rhyme
To come across like I am dying
To let you know you need to try to think

Precisely the definition St. Anselm gave to my life’s work, theology, which is fides quaerens intellectum, which I like to translate as “the quest of thinking faith.”

Unquestionably, there is a Christian worldview that inhabits their sounds and lyrics, but Tyler is exceedingly careful not to use overtly religious language. Being an inhabitant of our creed-averse culture,  he creatively engages the challenge of trying to carry with him a “theology” into a diverse, splintered and radically pluralistic ethos. Faith “latently” informs their art, making TØP songs like fissures that compromise the integrity of the hardened walls constructed by an atheist, materialist, consumerist secularism. Letting some transcendent air in the room so we can breathe deep.

Or you might say they sing their music (deftly) into a culture comfortable only with an agnostic form of worship offered on “the altar to an unknown God” (Acts 17:23). There on that altar, faith can quietly lead us to contend more seriously with life’s great questions, to grapple with the rawest anxieties of our day, with an eye to hope.

When I went to the TØP concert with my daughters last year, I found my own faith stirred in a powerful way. It was truly an off-beat experience of worship for me, that left a mark for months afterward. All I could think of at the end of their concert, after they finished the song Trees, was the name for God coined by the 13th century Beguine, Marguerite Porete


There in the commercialized Smoothie-King Center in NOLA, the God made “far” by our disenchanted culture drew stunningly near. “I want to know you, I want to see you, I want to say, Hello.”

After listening to the interview with Tyler, I wrote a poem. It’s my summary of what I see to be their aesthetic mission. Dang, I wish they could read it.

Prophets of Zeitgeist

Canting angst, oracles of Zeitgeist
haunted by a restless Father’s Love
whirling about the cross of Christ
faith to life stitched, deftly spliced.

Rapping deep into a living Tree
facing the face of fear, whilst longing
to be found, kissed by Truth set free
love filial, of our gnarled humanity.

Though never preaching, evoking
a beauty that saves, invites, feeds
thinking into our within, provoking
hope, suicidal minds all-soaking.

Your words, incise, cut, make bleed
yet gently wound to heal and bind
our inscape to a life-giving creed
bruising none of each fragile reed.

Your igneous mission rings clear:

Dare us hope Up, out of the fear
into the peace of God, Unknown
Heart Whisperer, “I AM, here
weeping dry every falling tear.”

Mashley’s “Untitled” Cover!

Nothing exists without music, for the universe itself is said to have been framed by a kind of harmony of sounds, and the heaven itself revolves under the tone of that harmony. — St. Isidore of Seville

For those of you who don’t frequent Obstat, this is Maria (my daughter) and Ashley singing. I post their work here, (1) because I’m a dad and (2) because this blog is dedicated to allowing beauty to save the world.

Oh, Maria makes up those harmonies — since she was very little, she says, she could ‘hear’ harmonies in all monophonic music she’d hear.

Orthodox Lay Saints

The internationally renowned Eastern Orthodox theologian, Fr. Andrew Louth, came to speak at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans about the rift between Eastern and Western Christianity. Twenty years ago, I wrote my Masters Thesis using his work as a primary source, and so meeting him was a big deal for me.

I include below the public lecture.

I brought him to the airport Monday, and before he got out of the car, I asked him two questions. First, “What do you think is most important thing to be aware of for those who study or teach theology?” He answered immediately, “Prayer. If you don’t pray, it’s all really a waste of time, isn’t it? And quite dangerous, really. I mean, this is God we’re dealing with.” Then I asked him, “Father, what do you tell Orthodox laity who aspire to sanctity, whose lives are fully immersed in marriage, family life, secular professions, civic life, and so on?” I whipped out my old iPhone and recorded his answer, for you all. Enjoy:

Mashley, in video

The Friends section! (Maria’s sister Catherine on the right)

Seminarian Big Brothers, Dr. Jennifer!

As I share Ashley and (my daughter) Maria’s Saturday night concert video, I thought this letter by author Kurt Vonnegut was a perfect way of expressing what, for me, was the greatest part of this night — their leap in soul-growth as artists performing live, raw, real, one-take…


This is Maria’s edited selection of clips of footage taken by Ashley’s grandfather (he did not get everything). It was recorded in the middle of the crowd so there’s lots of mixed-in sounds, but you will catch the vibe!!

Enjoy! ❤

Red Red Wine

Miracle of Water into (red red) Wine at Cana.

[An easy post. Happy Mardi Gras!]

“I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food.” ― W.C. Fields

Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.
Benedicamus Domino! ― Hilaire Belloc

“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” — Isaiah 25:6

They have no wine. — The Virgin Mary

“A wedding feast lacking wine embarrasses the newlyweds – imagine finishing the wedding feast drinking tea? It would be an embarrassment! Wine is necessary for the feast.” — Pope Francis

No longer drink only water, but take a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments. — 1 Tim. 1:23

“We do not encourage underage drinking.” — Ashley and Maria

You make the grass grow for the cattle
and plants to serve mankind’s need.
That he may bring forth bread from the earth
and wine to cheer the heart. – Psalm 104:14-15

Festschrift for Ashley

A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
[she] that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure [her] excellence.
A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find [her]. — Sirach 6:14-16

“One can make a rather easy transition from human friendships to friendship with God himself” — Aelred of Rievaulx

I’d like to honor Ashley today. She is, of course, lead singer in the indy cover band, Ashley and Maria (or Mashley, as I call them), whose work I have featured here for the last 2 years. She’s a remarkable young woman. My daughter Maria became friends with Ashley soon after we arrived in New Orleans in 2012, and it was not long before they stitched together their unique melodies into a new and fresh harmony.

After my first son was born, an older gentleman gave me this advice on raising children well, “If you cultivate in your children a love for good books, good music, good friends, along with your good marriage, you’ll give them a rock solid foundation.” What’s become clear over the 21 years since then is this: while my wife and I have had a good amount of say over the books, music and our marriage, it’s friendships that contain the real uncertainty variable.

Friendship is immensely powerful, for good or for ill. Our greatest goal in this regard over the years has been to instill in our children standards of good judgment that would help them sift the wheat from the chaff and choose people of character for friends. And we prayed (and still pray) each of our children would find and maintain good, faithful and worthy friends. Without exception, we believe that our children have each chosen well.

Ashley is an especially exceptional example of such a friendship. She, like Maria, is filled with joie de vivre. She’s a normal teenager, but not ordinary. She stands out. She is kind and creative, hip, deeply faith-filled, willing to go the extra mile, sensitive to beauty and attentive to others’ suffering. She has moral integrity and — key! — her parents love her enough to hold her to high standards. Her parents rock.

And Ashley longs to know God. When I was in high school, I would not have had the foggiest idea what that meant. But she does, and it’s a way of life she shares with Maria; and with anyone who comes close to her. In fact, Ashley and Maria’s friendship reminds me of the friendship between Sts. Gregory Nazianzen and Basil the Great, which Gregory described in his homily at Basil’s funeral. I will substitute “music” for “philosophy”:

The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of [music]. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as [her] own. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.

So that’s my take, but don’t just believe me. Let me allow 6 of her friends to weigh in:

Ashley keeps her cool in everything she does and is able to see things from a long term perspective.
Ashley never lets anything bother her, and she does everything with love.
Ashley has a good heart and selflessly puts others’ needs above her own.
Ashley is level headed in tough situations and always just wants what is best for her friends
Ashley has the amazing and unique ability to place all of her needs aside when she sees someone she cares about in pain.
Ashley would do absolutely anything to protect the people she loves, and that selflessness reminds me a lot of Jesus.

Ashley, you’re loved by Mrs. Patti and me. You have an awesome family, extraordinary gifts, great friends and a bright future in God’s plan. And you are a great friend. We look forward to watching you bloom with even greater beauty in the Garden of God. Remember, “a dark world waits for a splash of the sun.” For you to sing a new song with your life.

Let me leave you with two of my favorite Mashley music videos: